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The Often Challenging Prospect of Being Single at Church

Since 1970, the population of single adults in the United States has increased by more than 350%. Today, nearly 50% of all adults in the US are single.

Of these, 60% have never been married, 25% are divorced, and 15% are widowed. And while these numbers might make you ask whether people even want to get married, research indicates that, despite prolonged singleness, adults place greater value on marriage today than they have in the last five decades. Why is there an increasing value for marriage? As our communities have fragmented, many look to a spouse to help meet emotional, physical, and social needs.

Yet there are many reasons for staying single — the reasons are as complex as the people who hold them. With each reason comes experiences and perspectives unique to that person — a reality which often makes it difficult for this growing population to find belonging in the church.

Struggling to Belong at Church
The church has long celebrated — even idolized — family, causing many singles to feel alienated.

Attending church solo can cause singles to feel uncomfortable among so many accompanied by their spouses and families. Of all the places people frequent during the week--their workplace, the gym, the grocery store, etc.--church is the place people most often go to with their families. Hence, singles can feel uncomfortably visible at church. At the same time, the absence of a spouse can also render singles invisible and overlooked for leadership roles in the church.

Many older adults in the church are prone to minimize the fears and pains of singles, believing that it's "just a matter of time" until the longed-for spouse is found. Additionally, only 4% of Protestant pastors have never been married, making it difficult for ministry leaders to relate on a personal level with single adults.

With so many facets of singleness, it's important not to minimize one's fears around finding a desired spouse, nor make assumptions about one's singleness. As the rise in singleness continues, it's essential the church learns to understand this growing population in order to care well for, not alienate, this group of adults.